Mastering and Mixing: What are the differences?

a mastering and mixing engineer sitting at a console and listening to music

Whilst most of us recognise that mastering and mixing are two different things, it’s often a blurred line that separates them. Although distinctly different, both are equally important and you cannot have one without the other. Mixing is the stage where each of the separate instruments and sounds in your song can be treated and processed individually. They are then combined together into a singular stereo mixdown ready for mastering. Mastering is where the stereo mixdown is enhanced, balanced and adjusted to ensure continuity across sound systems as well as an industry-standard, release-ready sound.

So what is mixing in more detail?

Mixing is a process that takes place after all the writing and monitoring has been done. The initial mixing steps would involve marking and grouping all audio clips in a session. If a session has been prepared, you should set up the deployment procedures, such as equalization, filtering, compression and panning to start bringing the track to life. Initial equalization and filtering should seek to reduce frequency masking and to change the overall mix between each instrument.  Compression can then be used, if necessary, to balance dynamic content.

After this, effects such as reverb, delay, and other modulations can be applied. They are meant to give the mix a sense of space and build unique tones. Many of these effects can be automated in order to ensure correct use at any given time within the project.

Mixing should be performed on suitable studio monitors in order to achieve a smooth, colourless representation of the changes you make to the recording. The main goal of mixing is to make the project sound as good as you can. Finally, once something sounds perfect, you need to render your project. If you’re not sure how, find out how to prepare your track for mastering.

What is mastering

Now onto mastering

Now that your mix is done, it’s time to send the project off for mastering. A mastering service is required to obtain a mixed down stereo WAV format ready for publishing. During the process, slight changes will be made using equalization, compression, stereo enhancement and limiting to create your final master. These minute changes are added to ensure consistency when the music is played back on a number of sound systems. This makes sure it’s going to sound great on your home speakers or in a major nightclub. Not only this, the music will be tailored to an appropriate standard of commercial loudness so that you can compete with the rest of the industry. Upon receiving the master back, you can appreciate the added clarity and punch to your track as well as an increase in loudness.

Some do’s and dont’s to consider with mastering and mixing

DON’T try to master your own music. This isn’t a sales pitch, it’s genuinely never a good idea to attempt to master anything that you have mixed. The analogy I always like to use is:

If you cook a meal using the perfect amount of every ingredient, it will be perfection. If you then throw in extra spices because you feel you should be, you could end up ruining it.

DO make sure you mix down and provide headroom before mastering. If you skip this step, you will never achieve the results you are seeking.

DON’T attempt to combine these two stages. They are different and should be treated so.

DO treat mastering and mixing equally. One step is no more important than the other and without each other they are worthless. Invest just as much time and effort into both areas, regardless of if you are the one doing them or not.

TL;DR

Mastering and mixing are separate but make up the largest part of creating music. They are both important but should both be approached differently. Make sure you take your time with each and understand the distinction between them. Mix your music to its full potential and then have it mastered to ensure continuity within the market.

Leave a Reply

  1. a i says:

    Great article! I think way too many people master their own tracks and don’t really understand that it’s ok to make your mix as finished as possible and the benefit of sending it to someone else is for that alternate perspective.

  2. Tim Dunphy says:

    Absolutely! Having a fresh pair of ears and a brand new perspective can be invaluable. Thank you for your kind words.

  3. jimmyw says:

    Thank you for the knowledge.. Is appreciated enormously… Thank u.. Thank u.

  4. Tim Dunphy says:

    My pleasure, I’m glad this article has been helpful!

  5. A.Majeed Baradai says:

    Dear Mr TIM
    do you recommend any high quality of plugins for symphony classical and New age music,
    Best regards

  6. sinred says:

    Muy buen articulo,exeléntemente explicado, Gracias!!

  7. Tim Dunphy says:

    Thanks, Sinred! I’m glad this was helpful to you.

  8. helptomast says:

    Appears to be a fine lecture.

  9. Tim Dunphy says:

    Thank you HelpToMast. I’m glad that this was of help to you! :)

  10. carlinskiiii says:

    Se agradecería una traducción al español si no fuera mucho problema
    Gracias

  11. Suprise says:

    Very helpful thank you.

  12. Charles Arinze says:

    I love your lecture it’s wonderful. Can you mix and master a song for one online?

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